The suspension of Walter Onnoghen as the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN) by President Muhammadu Buhari has predictably generated furore within and outside the country, a situation that is less desirable a few weeks to the 2019 general election.
The process leading to Onnoghen’s suspension, beginning with the petition by a civil society group against him over an alleged non-declaration of assets, has been assailed by many commentators, lawyers and activists who argue that due process has not been followed.
In the avalanche of judicial pronouncements and interpretations of the laws, however, there seems to be an emerging consensus that the government could have handled the Onnoghen case better and within the confines of the statutes.
As a public officer, the CJN has already indicted himself by admitting that he forgot to declare certain assets, and there is no protection in law for this. There is also suspicion that he cannot reasonably account for the value of the transactions that have been carried out on some of his bank accounts. This inevitably points to the fact that he might have a case to answer, and this is definitely not good for a custodian of public trust in the temple of justice.
Nevertheless, the rule of law and legal procedures need to be followed in order not to create the impression that democratic principles are being willfully bypassed in the Onnoghen case. The government can still achieve the same end result by following the procedural path.
While TheCable is fully persuaded that there has been no fidelity to laid-down procedures in the treatment of the Onnoghen case, there is no doubt that the CJN himself is not smelling of roses in the whole affair.
To break the logjam, therefore, we call on Buhari to immediately recall Onnoghen from suspension. This will save his government from further accusation of dictatorship.
In the meantime, Onnoghen can save the entire country the whole trouble by stepping aside as CJN as soon as he is reinstated by Buhari. This will allow him to clear his name. It is only fair that he cannot be expected to head the judicial arm of government while he is being investigated. That is a moral obligation.
We also call on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to step into the impasse and do the right thing by subjecting Onnoghen to a transparent investigation. He should be put on administrative leave while investigation lasts as he cannot be a judge in his own case.
If Onnoghen is found to have committed an infringement, he should be appropriately disciplined so that the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) can proceed with his trial within the confines of the law. For now, his innocence has to be presumed until guilt is established.
The CCT, on the other hand, has to come under a new leadership because of the ongoing corruption case against the chairman, Danladi Umar. He has also conducted himself less creditably in the Onnoghen case. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands.
TheCable calls on all sides of the divide to put the nation’s interest first. The allegations against the CJN are grave and no matter the temptation to play politics, the interest of the country must never be downplayed.
It is in the interest of Nigeria for state institutions to be allowed to do their jobs unimpeded and it is the responsibility of our leaders, both from the ruling party and the opposition, to make sure our institutions are above board no matter the political considerations.
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